Researchers Find Link Between Exposure to Some Persistent Organic Pollutants and Type 2 Diabetes

work being performed in a research labThe type 2 diabetes epidemic continues to climb at an alarming rate. While genetic factors and an unhealthy lifestyle are known causes of type 2 diabetes, researchers have discovered that exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs)—specifically those found in foods—have been linked to an increased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

In a cross-sectional study, Finland researchers looked at the association between type 2 diabetes and exposure to POPs in the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study. Their study, which appeared in the September 2011 issue of Diabetes Care, was published as “Association between type 2 diabetes and exposure to persistent organic pollutants.”

The cohort included 8,760 adults in the Finnish population born in Helsinki between 1934-1944—just before the global peak of POPs. A clinical examination, which included blood samples of diabetes-related markers (eg, serum lipids) and POPs, was done in 2003. Complete data were available for 1,988 of the study’s participants (921 men and 1,067 women).

The concentrations of POPs were divided into 4 groups in percentile intervals:

  • <10th
  • 10th to <50th
  • 50th to <90th
  • ≥90th

Logistic regression was performed to look at the diabetes prevalence across the POP categories, adjusting for sex, age, waist circumference, and mean arterial pressure. The lowest POP category (<10th percentile) was used as the reference group.

Researchers found that for those participants with the highest exposure to oxychlordane, trans-nonachlor, 1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis-(p-chlorophenyl)-ethylene (p,p’-DDE), and polychlorinated biphenyl 153, their risk of type 2 diabetes was 1.64–2.24 higher than those with the lowest exposure.

In the stratified analysis, the link between type 2 diabetes and oxychlordane and trans-nonachlor was the most significant and strongest among those who were overweight. However, exposure to certain POPs—2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE 47) and 2,2′,4,4′,5,5′-hexabromodiphenyl ether (BDE 153)—was not linked to type 2 diabetes.

This study suggests that adult-only high exposure to some POPs may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in a general urban population; limiting exposure to POPs may help reduce this risk.

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